It's always hard to figure out how to dive into a trade show. Do you go the appointment route and schedule nothing but back to back appointments who send you invitations ahead of time? Do you start at the first booth in the first row and work your way, booth-to-booth to the last booth (sort of like data tapes and sequential access)? Do you open the guide and look for the most interesting products or vendors and go directly to them (the random access of a hard drive or CD)? Me, I hooked up my prodcasting gear and, with microphone in hand, I simply started roaming the show floor, grabbing anybody -- exhibitors, showgoers, etc. -- who would talk to me. You can download the audio version of my show floor walkabout manually or, if you're subscribed to ZDNet's IT Matters series of podcasts, it'll be downloaded to your system or MP3 player automatically (see ZDNet’s podcasts: How to tune in).
My first stop was the DriveSavers booth. This is a company that apparently started out in the Macintosh recovery business and has since branched out into recovering damaged media of any type (something I could have used last week when my system completely hosed its hard drive). Drivesavers doesn't make a technology. It's a service. If you have a damaged hard drive, USB key, tape, whatever....if it's damaged storage with data on it, you can send it Drivesavers and, in many cases, they'll ship the data you thought you lost back to you in a format that can be dragged and dropped into a fresh intallation of your operating system.
The show floor was kind of dead and easy to roam around. Not too stressful. Nevertheless, I found a booth on the show floor where the exhibitors were giving massages. So, not only did I interview the masseuse, I also interviewed a showgoer as he was getting his massage from a msssage therapist that was digging her elbows into his back. It looked painful, but he was clearly being relieved of whatever stress may have been introduced into his system by the lightweight event (and the commute he went through to get here).
BEA is here at the show and the company has been sending me a variety of press releases and e-mails about some news they've got technology that's relevant to mashups. This of course is a particularly newsworthy time for a large application server and services oriented architecture-based company to be talking about mashups given IBM's recent announcement of a mashup technology (dubbed "Enterprise Mashups") that uses a wiki-like context to enable mashup development. So, to get BEA's perspective on the issue, I swung by the company's booth but there was no body there. In fact, the booth appeared as though there had been nobody there all day.
A small but interesting startup called iomachine is here and, during the podcast, you can hear their pitch for an interesting router/hub/firewall/VoIP appliance that enterprises can use to connect their branch offices to headquarters. So what you say? Those are a dime a dozen. Well, what's different about this is that the company monitors the health of the device on a realtime basis (using personnel her in the US and in India) so that if something goes wrong, there's a pretty good chance that they'll have it fixed before you even know that there was a problem. It made be think back to the day when Sun CEO Jonathan Scwhartz said that one day, cars will probably be free and it will be the paid services like OnStar where the money is made (sort of the way cell phones are given away today). He could be right. One day, a car may come bundled with enough paid services that the some industry (not the automotive one), sees cars as nothing but another ARPU opportunity. Although iomachine currently charges for the hardware, I think for them to really be successful, they'll need to give the hardware away (talk about disrupting the Cisco-quo).
WITI, the international organization for the advancement of women in the technology field is here. The technology industry is a very male-dominated one and WITI is the sort of organization where professional women can network and learn a great deal from each others' success stories when it comes to "breaking through the glass ceiling" as it was described to me in the interview. I thought that WITI and organizations like it (there are similar organizations in other industries) try to promote the advancement and placement of professional women based the recognition on their accomplishments, skills, and business acumen. In fact, when the official C3 Expo show photographer came up and took pictures while I was doing my interview and then remarked on how attractive the interviewee was, I - on microphone - asked if recognizing a woman for her looks first wasn't about the most politically incorrect thing that one could say to a WITI representative. But the WITI representative countered saying "any recognition we can get is welcome." Eeeeek.
In the, "ok, I'm pretty impressed by that" category, you'll hear my interviews in two booths... one belonging to Kodak and the other to a company called PowerPressed. Kodak has taken technology that normally costs tens of thousands of dollars and trickled it down into a small scanning appliance that's priced for small and medium businesses (and workgroups). The appliance -- called the Scan Station 100 -- is a stand alone device with it's own color LCD display (no computer required) that you hang on the network. It scans about 25 pages per minute (the caddy holds 75 pages) and, in the process of scanning documents, it automatically tidies them up (crops them, unskews them) and then deposits the resulting scans into just about anything across the network (an email system, a content management system, storage, or even a secure USB key (it comes with a USB port). It doesn't do optical character recognition. But that's not what this sort of scanning is about. Imagine a small shipping company that needs to keep digital copies of all the bills of lading that come through (so they can get rid of the paper). As we talked about the technology I couldn't help but think that there's also a consumer application for it. Imagine for example, stuffing 75 photos into the caddy and having the resulting scanned images directly deposited into the photosharing site of your choice (Flickr, Ophoto, Webshots, etc.). Prior to offering this Scan Station 100, such technology was available from Kodak.... but it cost $80,000 and was normally used by enterprises that handle huge volumes of paper documents like insurance companies.
PowerPressed is one of those $50 software products that does one thing only, but does it well (going where no WinZip has gone before). It compresses PowerPoint presentations so that they can more easily be mailed around (in a way that allows them to slip through email gateways that often restrict the size of emails that are allowed in or out of a company's network (I've had this problem where people send me very large attachments and they never make it to me). On the show floor here, PowerPress took a 16MB presentation and shrunk it down to under 1MB. The company claims an average compression rate of 95 percent. In other words, the final file is 5 percent the size of the original. I haven't tested it and I didn't check the presentation they were compressing for its graphics:text ratio. But, based on what I saw, it might be worth $50 to give this product a try if you find yourself mailing PowerPoint presentations around the way a lot of people do.
Also during the walkaround, I chatted with the folks from Data Velocity: a company debuting a product called Erudition for Helpdesk (ask 10 people what "erudition" means and I'll bet 9 of them don't know). The company's gimmick to draw attention to the knowledge gathering power of its products (Erudition is actually a family of products) was to have a mind-reading session. I didn't stick around. The last thing I want is my mind read.
BlackDuck is also here. Good company for anybody who develops software and that needs to know whether or not their source code is running afoul of some copyright. BlackDuck has a technology that does code analysis and that literally sniffs out code (using pattern matching, amongst other techniques) that could be "offending" someone else's copyright. I was surprised that the company doesn't also look for potential patent violations as well (given that software can be patented....a dumb idea that stifles innovation). During the interview, I learned that patents is an area that BlackDuck may eventually expand its practice to.